Elevation Gain (m): 915
Trip Date: December 28 2020
Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 22
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something. Unless you’re caught in an avalanche – then you could die.
Difficulty Notes: Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Ski)
Map: Google Maps
It’s been a while since I skied to Burstall Pass. It used to be my go to spot for early season or shorter day trips but over the years we found many other spots and BP sort of dropped down the list. On a cold Monday in late December 2020, Wietse and I decided it was finally worth a repeat trip in our new ski gear that we bought way back in early November already. I was very excited to try out my new DPS skis – an older model Wailer Tour1 112’s that I got on sale at SkiWest. I remember seeing my first pair of Wailer’s on my Youngs Peak tour in Rogers Pass way back in 2015. Even before that I wanted a pair of yellow DPS skis for some reason. We decided that since the pass was such a short trip we’d go to the south pass and up Burstall Pass Peak before doing some laps to give the skis (and us) a good workout.
We arrived at the parking area in 3rd place – not bad considering it was still dark! Burstall Pass and all of Kananaskis backcountry has become very busy over the past few years with the sport of backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and winter trail running becoming quite popular. Covid-19 restrictions have made the backcountry even busier than usual as bored, cooped up people such as myself are even more in the mood for fresh air than usual. Ah well. One advantage of increased traffic in winter is a good approach trail and much less permanent impact on the landscape than the summer and fall crowds bring. We were among the first to the leave the lot in -15 degree temperatures and soon Wietse had me sweating up the first hill with a fairly quick pace. Skiing across the Burstall Creek flats before the steep treed section to the upper valley brought back memories of many previous ski tours in this area. Soon we were following a packed track up through the steep forested trail – the skis were amazingly light and handled easily on the uphill despite being longer than my previous set.
A combination of gently falling snow, gusts of cold wind and glimpses of blue sky greeted us in the upper hanging valley under “Zeke’s Peak” as we continued touring towards Burstall Pass South. The snow felt supportive with about 6″ of fresh on top of a hard slab. We broke trail up to the south pass before heading west up gentle slopes to the col between Burstall Pass Peak’s two summit bumps. The cold wind kept us from tagging the high points and soon it was finally time to give the deep powder skis a first try! They were AWESOME. Pure heaven compared to my old, straight Ski Trab’s – these actually turned when I wanted them to! Instantly I wished I’d bought them years ago, but there’s only so much money to spend on gear when you have other responsibilities in your life…
I was in love and ready for more turns so we decided to descend towards the north pass and do some laps on the bunny hill there – it was more protected from the cold winds. We met a pair of skiers from Edmonton at the bunny hill and on our third lap Jess handed me a hand painted postcard that she’d literally painted while we skied our laps! Such a wonderful gesture – it now sits amongst other mountain detritus that’s I’ve accumulated over the years.
After three laps our skins were full of snow and we decided it was a good time to bail. Descending the headwall via Burstall Creek was as “entertaining” as I remembered – at least Wietse didn’t run into a tree branch with his eye this time! Skiing back along the undulating trail to the parking lot was a bear without skins as usual – but there’s just enough downhill to avoid putting them on if it all possible. We were surprised how busy the Spray road corridor was on exit – there must have been two dozen people just skiing Hero’s Knob. We were delighted with our new equipment and busy making plans for the week and rest of the ski season as we drove home.